On 25 December this year Taipei County will be upgraded to a special municipality. The Chinese-language name of the new municipality will be Xīnběi Shì (新北市). About a month ago I sent an e-mail to Taipei County Commissioner Chou Hsi-wei enquiring about the official English name of the new municipality but received no reply. A story in today’s Taipei Times provides some answers though.
According to the article Yang Yi-te (楊義德), the Commissioner of Taipei County’s Department of Civil Affairs , said the County Government chose “Xinbei City” as the official name because “New Taipei City” would be too similar to Taipei City.
The Taipei Times also reported on a group of Tongyong Pinyin advocates protesting against the use of the Hanyu Pinyin “Xinbei”. Chang Shu-feng (張淑芬), director of Taiwan Pinyin League, said the government should use “Sinbei City” or “New Taipei City” as the English name. The article also says a final decision on the English name of the city will be made by the Taipei County Council in September.
An article (中文) in the United Daily News (聯合報) says that both the KMT and DPP candidates for mayor of the new municipality favor “New Taipei City”. KMT candidate Eric Chu (朱立倫) says that this is the original public consensus. DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen says that it’s most important for foreigners to know what the city is called. Foreigners won’t know that “Xinbei” is just the transliteration of some Chinese characters, but “New Taipei City” makes it very clear that this is a newly developed metropolitan area.
The United Daily News article also quotes Deputy Commissioner of Taipei County, Lee Shu-chuan (李四川), saying that the Ministry of Interior determined last year that place names should be transliterated using Hanyu Pinyin. Therefore “Xinbei City” met the standard. This decision was sent to the Ministry of Interior and Taipei County Council in April this year and won’t be changed.
A survey of Taiwan’s major English-language media organisations shows a variety of usages. The China Post, Taiwan News and Focus Taiwan (published by CNA) use Xinbei City. The Taipei Times, which supports Tongyong Pinyin, uses Sinbei City. While Taiwan Today (published by the GIO) uses New Taipei City.
In an e-mail Kaihsu Tai suggested the name Běixīn Shì (北新市) which could be written in English as “Basin City”. This is a reference to the Taipei Basin, a key geographical feature of the Taipei area.
There is a thread at Forumosa.com discussing the issue. Screaming Jesus suggests that they should go back to “Taihoku”, the Japanese name for Taipei. ludahai writes, “If India can handle Delhi and New Delhi, I think Taiwan can handle Taipei and New Taipei.”
Other uses I have seen around the web include “New North City” and “Sin City”. The latter should really be used for Taichung though!
My opinion is that the regardless of whether it is written as Xinbei City, Sinbei City or New Taipei City the name for the upgraded municipality simply lacks originality. While I have no specific suggestion for a new name I think it should be something that better reflects local history and culture. It is also important that there is public consultation on the issue and a range of alternatives be considered. Taiwan still has a long way to go in addressing issues of name rectification. The renaming of Taipei County is a good place for a fresh start.